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Book Review: THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Erik Larson

It's 1893 in Chicago and two men stand on the precipice, one destined for greatness and the other for infamy. Architect Daniel Hudson Burnham prepares his crowning achievement, a fairground called the White City to host the World's Fair. Just west of the fairground, a young entrepreneur named Henry H. Holmes opens the World's Fair Hotel, a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. As Burnham transforms the swampy Jackson Park into the White City, Holmes lures young women to their deaths.

In THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY, Erik Larson crafts a narrative that captures the magic and wonder of the late nineteenth century, as well as the horrors of the man known as America's first serial killer. His prose is robust and detailed, backed by meticulous research. He weaves together two tales of ambitious efforts by two distinctly different men, capturing the subtleties and the complexities of each.

Larson captures the essence, beauty, and enormity of Burnham's undertaking in creating the White City, while also casting a light upon the darkness of Holmes' psychopathic actions. The two working parallel in the same place and time links them irrevocably together from all of history.

THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY is almost overwhelming in the detail included in the book. Larson goes to great lengths to ensure that the reader comprehends the great depth that both Burnham and Holmes go to accomplish their individual goals. The book is a fascinating read and filled with historical tidbits and anecdotes. If you like your history with a dash of the macbre, then this book is for you.


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